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Here’s What Humanity Wanted Aliens to Know About Us in 1977

This gold aluminum cover was designed to protect the Voyager 1 and 2 'Sounds of Earth' gold-plated record from micrometeorite bombardment, but also serves a double purpose in providing the finder a key to playing the record. The explanatory diagram appears on both the inner and outer surfaces of the cover, as the outer diagram will be eroded in time. Flying aboard Voyagers 1 and 2 are identical golden records, carrying the story of Earth far into deep space. The 12 inch gold-plated copper discs contain greetings in 60 languages, samples of music from different cultures and eras, and natural and man-made sounds from Earth.
SSPL/Getty Images Flying aboard Voyagers 1 and 2 are identical golden records, carrying the story of Earth far into deep space. The 12 inch gold-plated copper discs contain greetings in 60 languages, samples of music from different cultures and eras, and natural and man-made sounds from Earth.

See some of the images carried into outer space by the Voyager spacecraft

It was nearly 30 years ago—Jan. 24, 1986, nearly a decade after it had been launched—that the Voyager 2 spacecraft made its closest pass to Uranus and, as TIME phrased it, “taught scientists more about Uranus than they had learned in the entire 205 years since it was discovered.”

But the sophisticated equipment that sent information back to NASA wasn’t the only important thing on board the spacecraft. The Voyager 2, like the Voyager 1, carried with it a record, plated in gold, on which had been encoded sounds and images meant to “portray the diversity of life and culture on Earth,” according to NASA. The message from Earth was curated by a committee led by Carl Sagan and contained 115 images of “scenes from Earth.”

It was estimated in 1977, when the Voyagers launched, that it would take 40,000 years for them to reach a star system where there might be a being capable of deciphering the record. But, should that ever happen, what exactly could those photos say about humanity? Here’s a hint, from a few of the pictures on the golden record, and our best guesses at how hypothetical aliens might interpret them:

Cute young Earthlings and an image of their planet, or maybe giant Earthlings and a smaller planet under their control:

Yutaka Nagata—UN PhotoA group of children learn at the UN International School in New York City in 1968

A fully grown Earthling, or maybe a demonstration of the kinds of weapons available on Earth:

Yutaka Nagata—UN PhotoPortrait of a worker engaged in thinning out a densely regenerated area of trees in Nicaragua in May 1971.

An Earth city building at sunset, or maybe the spacecraft with which a large number of Earthlings will come find you:

Yutaka Nagata—UN PhotoThe United Nations headquarters in New York City in 1968.

Earth traffic jam, or maybe why Earthlings will be fleeing to move to your home planet:

In June 1972 representatives of some 130 nations converged in Stockholm for an unprecedented meeting to seek ways of translating their concern about pollution and its potential dangers to the planet into a global attack on the common perils menacing the environment. Traffic congestion afflicts practically all large cities, as this rush hour jam in Bangkok, Thailand in May 1972 illustrates.
UN PhotoTraffic congestion at rush hour jam in Bangkok in 1972.

Earth scientist at work, or maybe an Earthling with goggles that can see you right now:

A student uses a microscope in a Mogadishu, Somalia health center in Jan. 1970.
Rice—UN PhotoA student uses a microscope in a health center in Mogadishu, Somalia in 1970.

How this thing got to you, or maybe a missile:

NASAVoyager 2 launching aboard a Titan-Centaur rocket in Cape Canaveral, Fla., on Aug. 20, 1977.

An image of early Earth spaceflight, or a being we abandoned in space:

Pictured here is Gemini 4 astronaut, Ed White, the first American to take a spacewalk. He spent more than 20 minutes outside his spacecraft. The 'umbilical cord' connecting him to the capsule supplied him with oxygen, and he held a rocket gun which he fired to help him move around in the vacuum of space. Gemini 4, crewed by James McDivitt and White, was launched on June 3 1965 and completed 62 Earth orbits. It was the second manned launch of 's two-man Gemini spacecraft.
NASAGemini 4 astronaut Ed White, the first American to take a spacewalk.

Celestial bodies near the Earth, Jupiter, Mercury and Mars, or maybe the places we’ve already conquered:

NASAJupiter, Mercury and Mars.

Where to find us, or maybe where to stay away from:

Planet Earth.
NASAPlanet Earth.
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